Monday, July 9, 2007

In Defense of Feudalism

Here is something you don't see often: a letter, published in Dawn, in defense of feudalism. The writer, from New Jersey no less, seems to be unhinged because he starts off spouting conspiratorial nonsense:

Traditionally Muslims of the subcontinent did not engage in business. They were either courtiers or landowners. The socialist Nehru abolished the land holdings in India not because of some lofty Marxist or Gandhian motives, but rather it was a Patel-led conspiracy to destroy the Muslims in India. Most of the land holdings were held by the Muslims.

By destroying the land holdings of the Muslims, the Islamic centres of excellence in Delhi, Lucknow, Agra and Hyderabad were brought down. With no opportunities in employment or education, the Muslims of India were pushed to the ghetto and slums of India.

There is no evidence what Nehru undertook was some kind of an anti-Muslim pogrom; and contrary to what the writer may say, Nehru, idealistic as he was, was motivated by "Marxist or Gandhian motives". The British gave large swathes of land (and money for its upkeep) to nawabs in order to buy their loyalty. These lands are a product of a colonial legacy. The land was not for the British to give away, so Nehru, rightly, eliminated these huge estates soon after independence. I believe India was better for it.

If feudalism is so bad, then one needs to learn from the Mozambique horrors which stemmed from the abolition of large land holdings. The result was a sharp decline in food production, mass starvation and general chaos. Pakistani feudals for all their faults have kept a steady flow of food to our growing population and made it more or less self-sufficient in rice and wheat with huge exports in cotton. This is the backbone of our economy.

The writer seems to be confused. The argument is not about efficiency or productivity of large estates, but whether these estates, which their owners paid little or nothing for, conform to democratic norms. Nehru believed they did not. Now, I'm no fan of Nehru or his socialist ideals, but I believe he was right on this score.

...The Indian industrialists simply implemented a failed policy of import substitution and did not participate in the world market for decades.

Penury in neighbouring India had a huge impact on our economy. The BJP government was thrown out because it failed to look into the problems of rural India. The Indian IT field only impacts about six million Indians. The other billion eek out a living on farms with low productivity.

So what the writer is essentially saying is that Pakisan's economy stinks because India is so poor? But India's economy is doing much better now, just behind China in terms of growth. So logically, Pakistan should be doing better economically, which, of course, it is. The writer should be grateful to India, at least. :-)

Finally, the writer offers the following solution to improve Pakistan's moribund economy:

Pakistan has to encourage its feudals into doubling and tripling its productivity in food and cotton. No magic formulae will make Pakistan prosperous. Huge dams should redirect wasted water of the Indus to Balochistan and it must increase its arable area by developing the vast deserts of Pakistan.

Interesting. I don't know what the thought process was here, but it wasn't too deep. Much as the writer like to brag about fuedal estates, Pakistan has, from time to time, imported food items like wheat and sugar, especially during periods of shortages. And why is the writer insisting on Pakistan grow more food when there is such a glut of it that governments pay their farmers not to grow it?